I should be used after 8 years in China about the Chinese way of communication but sometimes also for me is getting difficult to understand completely this ancient culture, I’d like to share with you this post that may of interest if you’re dealing with the Asian culture.

For centuries Chinese, but this is common also in Korea and in all Asia, were meticulously programmed to avoid confrontations, ultimatums, and clear-cut commitments as a mean of ensuring harmony in society.

To achieve this goal, the people were conditioned to speak in vague terms that could be interpreted in a number of ways, or not to speak at all.

In a country’s hierarchically structured society where absolute rules defined inferior-superior relationship, speaking in clear, unambiguous terms, telling the truth, or making a critical comment could have seriously negative repercussions, and in worst-case scenario be life-threatening.

In this environment, Chinese learned to avoid saying ‘no’ and to divine the meaning and intent of others through cultural intuition. Saying NO was regarded as impolite, if not insulting.

When Western visit China encountered this kind of behaviour immediately assumed that Chinese were dishonest, devious, and could not be trusted.

One of the problems faced by Western when dealing with the Chinese is basic communication. For the western businessman ‘yes’ signals that the deal is done and the contracts can be signed, and if anything goes wrong, you can always sue on the contract.   Right?

Wrong…… at least in China.

In China ‘yes’ is the first word of negotiations, not the last. For the Chinese, ‘yes’ means let’s sit down and talk seriously.

When the Chinese respond during negotiation by saying :

  • Ming bai , they mean that they understand whet you said.
  • Ke yi, they mean that anything is possible
  • Tong yi, they mean that they agree with the last point
  • Dui, they mean OK, Yeah, Sure, Whay not, I see, etc. but doesn/t mean yes

Anything short then tong-yi means there is no deal.

Sometime during the negotiation I’m submitting all the documents to the Chinese party and after few minutes they go off of the room to read them.

I generally use this time to smoke a cigar and relax, when finished they’re not back and I decide to smoke a second cigar. After 1 hour I decide to call them by phone and their reply is generally: Mei you wen ti ( no problem )

With a very polite and calm voice I ask them, did you read all ? Everything Ok ? Shall we sign the contract ?

The answer in this case is generally : Ke Yi that means possible !!!

My reply is : shall we sign this fucking contract ? Are you going to sign it or not ?

The answer : Ying gai ke yi , that means most probably, maybe .

I you are still in a good mood with a calm voice you can try once again and ask the same question : are you going to sign or not ?

Answer : I’m not sure, I’d better to go back and ask my superior. Finish of the story here .

The social imperative for ambiguous speech has eroded significantly in contemporary China, especially among those who are involved in international business, but it continues to be an important cultural factor in business and politics, and must be taken into account.

One of the obvious ways to bring negotiations to a close and clear-cut commitments is to ask that they be put in official documents that are signed by the responsible people. If the documents are not forthcoming, the real situation is not clear.

Be patient and try again, again, again,


Bye then

Luciano GIOL


Written by admin